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AN-2016-SFOTRThe pun was so bad.

Sitting in the passenger seat of Matt LeDrew’s car as we pulled away from St. John’s Airport, I was immediately reminded of just what sort of nemesis Engen’s founder really is: the kind who invents shockingly bad puns.

And apparently this particular pun had been put into service at Sci-Fi on the Rock 10 before I even arrived in the province — while I was aboard Sackville, Matt was spreading the word that, thanks to my encouragement of independent genre writers in Atlantic Canada, I had kentaminated the convention.

Get it? Ken-Tam-inated. Instead of contaminated.

I never would have thought of that pun, but it certainly seemed to catch on. When my old friend Melanie Collins –– an organizer of the early Sci-Fi on the Rock conventions, and a fellow lover of Gros Morne National Park — became aware of my arrival at the venue, her question on Facebook was: WHERE IS THE POINT OF KENTAMINATION CURRENTLY?

To answer her precisely: I was at the Engen Books booth.

To answer her thoughtfully: I was discovering the extent of the contagion that breathed life into Iceberg Publishing.

Matt LeDrew likes to suggest that I hate him. When he needles me with terrible puns, does spot-on impressions of my aloof idiom, and self-deprecates himself and his company, I get the distinct impression that he’s playing the part of ‘annoying little brother’. Problem is I’m an only child, and therefore don’t know what an annoying little brother is. What I do know is that he’s a writer who showed up at the first Sci-Fi on the Rock convention in 2007 with a ton of stories in mind (some already on the page), and a big dream.

I’d been doing conventions and book events across Canada for a few years by that time, and I’d given out a lot of writing and publishing advice. Alone among the hundreds I’d spoken to, Matt followed up after our writing panels. Uniquely, he internalized the information provided to him, put his head down, and started building a company of his own. By Sci-Fi on the Rock 2, he’d launched Engen Books — we were neighbors at the event. We started doing writing panels together, and that continued at the third edition of the Newfoundland convention, at Polaris in Toronto, and in Halifax as well.

Matt and Ellen starting Engen’s ‘Most Dysfunctional Writing Panel Ever’, with Steve Lake behind the console.

Ellen Curtis
joined him almost immediately, and she was a revelation. A gifted writer, she clearly saw the future which Matt was trying to build, and invested her own skills and passion into its creation. Soon they were partners in more than business, and together they started creating opportunities for other young writers to get their stories into print –– first through anthologies, then in stand-alone titles.

Authors like Melanie Collins and Steve Lake — the latter who’s been on a sabbatical because he was leading the team that organized Sci Fi on the Rock 10 (he refuses to accept enough credit for this accomplishment) — were able to pursue their storytelling dreams thanks to Engen. Matt and Ellen have continued to grow their company, adding editor Erin Vance, expanding their title list, and augmenting their author lineup — even while working full-time and completing Bachelor’s degrees (with honors).

Scott Bartlett, always on the job.

I can’t accept any implication that someone who’s demonstrated such dedication to his passion is an ‘annoying little brother’. My nemesis? Certainly. Purveyor of unfortunate puns? Obviously. But Matt LeDrew is also one of Newfoundland’s most innovative native storytellers. One of many.

Scott Bartlett is a gentleman who knows how to make books good. I’ve mentioned our strange history before: in 2005, I appeared in his high school classroom and talked about writing. Thereafter, he chose to write some award-winning books, and to publish them himself. Now he stands alongside Engen on the cutting edge of storytelling in Newfoundland, and he has sound plans to continue growing.

I recognize the grit and professionalism with which Scott is attacking this venture. I also recognize his parents — two people so proud of him and so supportive of his writing that they came straight to the convention after a US vacation (having come in on the red-eye, no less) to bolster his efforts. Sleeves rolled up and no detail left unattended, Scott is building a body of work that will do him proud for the rest of his life.

Chris Walsh, As Fierce As Steel.

No less can be said of Chris Walsh. Before the convention I’d never met him, but when I hefted the 240,000-word hardcover book that he’d spent four years crafting, I immediately recognized him too. His journey has hardly been simple — he presently spends his days working a tough job and the rest of his time chasing an enigmatic lady in orange on fantastic adventures. The steel behind his determination is obvious when you talk to him about writing — as much as I believe in Alex and Stephanie, he believes in his characters. He won’t let them down, and I understand exactly why. I’ve seen it before, and I’ve lived it.

Just as I’ve lived through Sam Bauer’s experience. He’s seventeen and in print — Engen selected one of his stories for their anthology this year, giving life to his storytelling dream. Now he finds himself at the very beginning of an exciting journey, with so many books ahead of him.

There are more writers — many more. These are just the few I had time to really speak with at convention… who happen to be from Newfoundland. And that ‘from Newfoundland’ part is the point. Don’t get me wrong: fine storytellers come from other places, which is why the likes of Jay and Heidi Paulin, Ariel Marsh, and Larry Gent were in attendance.

Sam Bauer, entering the fray.

But getting back to Melanie’s question, and avoiding Matt’s pun: where was the site of the contamination?

The answer is as simple as it is obvious: Newfoundland.

The reason I can confidently state that I recognize the experiences of Matt and Ellen, Erin, Scott, Chris and Sam is because we’re all infected by the same strand of the same plague. While I appreciate that Matt and others give credit to me, Jacqui, and Iceberg Publishing for encouraging their endeavors, the truth is that our symptoms simply manifested earlier.

The symptoms of being a Newfoundlander.

Newfoundland teaches you that life isn’t easy, but that every day has the potential to be so very worthwhile.

Newfoundland teaches you that people matter.

Newfoundland teaches you that deeds are greater than wealth.

Newfoundland teaches you that, though we may be few, each of us can make a difference.

And as a conversation with any Newfoundlander will prove, Newfoundland teaches you that the best way to share your spirit is through the telling of a good story.

Why else would there be so many young Newfoundland writers laboring tirelessly over their books? How else could we explain the willingness of their families to support such wild, narrative dreams? What else could drive writers from the Rock to spend ten-hour days at one job, just to come home and start another?

Iceberg Publishing exists because Jacqui, Peter and I have worked constantly for nearly fifteen years. Because we believe in the dream we’re pursuing. Because we love to tell stories.

All those things are true because we were long ago contaminated by the Rock, the waves, the sea, and the culture of our home.

If ‘kentamination’ is a thing, it just means that I’m a contagious carrier of a disease that all of us on the Rock have anyway. But really, it’s not a thing. It’s just a pun from a friend who needs to learn to give himself enough credit, and who is one of many storytellers from the greatest place I’ve ever known.

Hey Melanie: here’s the current point of the contamination.